AFC East mired in mediocrity
November, 20, 2011
By James Walker | ESPN.com
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesRyan Fitzpatrick threw two more interceptions Sunday -- totaling seven picks in his past three starts.MIAMI -- Welcome to the AFC Least.
It's a place where the first-place team has the NFL's worst defense and the last-place team is the hottest in the division.
The two middle teams, well ... let's just say they personify the word "pretender." Just three days after the New York Jets were upset by Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos, the Bills also were embarrassed in an ugly, 35-8 loss to the Miami Dolphins.
Week 11 exposed the AFC East as a mediocre division. It's late November and only one team -- the New England Patriots (6-3) -- has a winning record. The Jets (5-5) and Bills (5-5) mathematically remain in the playoff hunt. But there's nothing to suggest either team is playoff bound or good enough to make a sustainable run down the stretch.
The Jets lost two games in five days. The Bills are 2-5 in their last seven and on a three-game losing streak. Buffalo has been outscored 109-26 the past three weeks.
"We're not a team that [should] go out and get beat 35-8 and 44-7 last week," Bills tight end Scott Chandler said. "I don’t know if there's any team in the league that loses like that week in and week out. We've been embarrassed the past three weeks."
The game was ugly for Buffalo. It included three straight touchdown drives allowed to start the game, two interceptions on dropped passes and a blocked punt for a touchdown.
Like the Jets a few days ago, bewilderment seemed to be the overall theme with the Bills. There's a lot of questions why this is happening and no one seems to have any answers.
"I wish I could give you an explanation," Bills coach Chan Gailey said bluntly. "I cannot give you an explanation."
Here is our explanation: The AFC East is not good this season.
It starts with the quarterbacks. The quarterbacking in this division has been awful in the past month and average overall this season. Buffalo's Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Jets' Mark Sanchez had good moments early. But both are crashing hard in this crucial time. The pair have combined for just four touchdowns and 12 interceptions in their past three games.
Tom Brady has been terrific, as usual, for New England. He's the biggest reason the Patriots are primed to win the division. New England usually falls when Brady has a bad game. The Patriots are too flawed in other areas to survive poor quarterback play on most weeks.
Miami's Matt Moore is playing like the second-best quarterback in the division, which is telling for the AFC East. He’s not making any mistakes and it’s led to Miami’s third straight victory. Moore threw for 160 yards and three touchdowns Sunday. These are numbers Fitzpatrick and Sanchez would love to have at this point.
Buffalo and New York also have inconsistent defenses. The Bills can’t stop anybody and New York, although stout, hasn’t performed up to the level of the previous two years. This combination has led to mediocrity for both teams.
The good news is the Bills and Jets play each other next week at Met Life Stadium. Some AFC East team has to win that game in what probably is a playoff eliminator for the loser.
"At this point every game is a must-win game," Bills safety Bryan Scott said. "We're moving to the last quarter of the season. We have to put together a string of wins in order to compete and get to where we want to be."
"If you look at the big picture here, there's not too many teams that will get in with six losses," he said. "So, yeah, I think they're all must-wins from here on out."
Can the Jets or Bills suddenly run off a string of wins to get into the postseason? It will take at least 10 victories to make the playoffs in the AFC. That means Buffalo or New York has to go 5-1 the rest of the way. Even with relatively easy strength of schedules, I don't see it.
But the last-place team in the AFC East is actually playing the best football. The Dolphins (3-7) now have won three straight with victories over Buffalo, the Washington Redskins and Kansas City Chiefs. Miami looks like the team fighting for a playoff spot, not the Bills or Jets.
Is it time to rethink Miami's plan in 2012? Is Moore the long-term solution at quarterback? Should coach Tony Sparano and general manager Jeff Ireland keep their jobs for another season? These are all questions for Miami -- the AFC East's bottom team -- that will be resolved in time.
But we can draw one conclusion for the AFC East as a whole. It's a division mired in mediocrity.